Hazardous chemicals such as bromine, antimony and lead are finding their way into food-contact items and other everyday products because manufacturers are using recycled electrical equipment as a source of black plastic, according to a new study.
The substances are among those applied to devices, such as laptops and music systems, as flame retardants and pigments but remain within the products when they reach the end of their useful lives.
Now scientists at the University of Plymouth have shown that a combination of the growing demand for black plastic and the inefficient sorting of end-of-life electrical equipment is causing contaminated material to be introduced into the recyclate.
This is in part because despite black plastics constituting about 15% of the domestic waste stream, this waste material is not readily recycled owing to the low sensitivity of black pigments to near infrared radiation used in conventional plastic sorting facilities.
The study is published in Environmental International and was conducted by Dr Andrew Turner, a Reader in Environmental Science at the University.
As well as posing a threat to human health, he says the study demonstrates there are potentially harmful effects for the marine and coastal environment either through the spread of the products as litter or as microplastics.